The Nairobi mall terror siege

People flee the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya after the terrorist attack

The terrorist attack and ensuing siege and hostage taking at the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, has been ongoing for several days, but Kenyan authorities announced today that all the hostages have been freed, although gunfire was still heard in the background. A terrible price was paid for combatting the terrorists and freeing the hostages – altogether 62 people were killed and hundreds injured.  There is much speculation about the nationality of the terrorists. It appears that at least some are of Western nationalities.

NAIROBI – Kenya said its security forces were in control of the Nairobi shopping mall where Islamist fighters killed at least 62 people, and police were doing a final sweep of shops early on Tuesday after rescuing the last hostages.

An overnight silence outside the large, upmarket Westgate mall was broken at daybreak with a loud burst of gunfire from inside, suggesting the complex had not yet been fully secured. A lone military chopper circled above.

“Our forces are combing the mall floor by floor looking for anyone left behind. We believe all hostages have been released,” the Ministry of Interior said on Twitter early on Tuesday, adding his forces were “in control” of the building.

A trickle of survivors left on Monday, but the fate of the missing was unclear four days after a group of between 10 and 15 militants stormed the mall, which with its rich clientele epitomized the African consumer bonanza that is drawing foreign investment to one of the world’s fastest growing regions.

Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said in a US television interview that “two or three Americans” and a British woman were among the militants who led the attack, launched on Saturday and claimed by Somalia’s al-Qaida-linked al Shabaab group.

Mohamed told the “PBS Newshour” show the Americans were “young men, about between maybe 18 and 19” years old. They were of Somali origin or Arab origin, and had lived in the US, “in Minnesota and one other place”, she said.

US authorities are urgently looking into information from the Kenyan government that residents of Western countries, including the United States, may have been among the militants, US security sources said.

[…]

Speculation rose about the identity of the attackers. Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku had earlier said they were all men but that some had dressed as women.

Despite his comments, one intelligence officer and two soldiers told Reuters that one of the dead militants was a white woman, likely to fuel speculation that she is the wanted widow of one of the suicide bombers who together killed more than 50 people on London’s transport system in 2005.

Called the “white widow” by the British press, Samantha Lewthwaite is wanted in connection with an alleged plot to attack hotels and restaurants in Kenya. Asked if the dead woman was Lewthwaite, the intelligence officer said: “We don’t know.”

There has also been much speculation regarding the extent of Israeli participation in the rescue effort (h/t cba), particularly as the mall was owned by Israelis:

According to a Kenyan security source, Israeli forces entered the mall, where a siege has been ongoing since Saturday, and “are rescuing the hostages and injured,” AFP reported.

However, an unnamed security source told Reuters that Israeli advisers were helping in negotiations, but not in operations.

“There are Israeli advisers helping with the negotiating strategy, but no Israelis involved in any imminent storming operation,” the Israeli source said.

Legal Insurrection has comprehensive coverage of the Nairobi mall siege here and here and here.

A personal angle to this terrible attack is added by commenter Pete (aka peteca1) who wrote this in the comments to my post about the killing of 2 IDF soldiers:

the tragic standoff at the mall in Nairobi caught my attention. I know that mall well. I have been thre many times, and actually escorted visitors through there for security purposes. It is a very upscale location, and frequently visited by foreigners. No doubt that was a orimary motivation for why Al Shabaab terrorists attacked it. It appears that the terrorists were very well prepared for their mission, and perhaps they had been trained to expect the type of countermeasures that were aimed at them. I’m sure that Kenyan forces will prevail, and it seems likely that they are supported by special Israeli forces as well (and also a US team). Therefore, please convey my thanks to the men from Israel who take on such a difficult and dangerous job.

Pete then added some detailed and very interesting background:

Anne – for me personally it was a bit of a shock to see a place I know well in Kenya (i.e. the Westgate Mall) suddenly be turned into a nightmare zone. As I said earlier, I have been to that mall numerous times, and I often take vistors (to Kenya) there for shopping and banking. By Kenyan standards it is quite ritzy, with a beautiful indoor design and a lot of light. It has many western fashions and more foods that are “western” – so it’s a popular place for the tourists to hang out. I do recall that they had active hand searches of all baggage at the entrances. There are also soldiers (askaris) stationed there, and policemen. But it is difficult for security staff in Africa to be always on high-alert … time just drags on in Africa and boredom is a difficult factor to overcome. Hence a terrorist team that is well trained could certainly penetrate the entrances – and that is exactly what happened.

Kenya has been getting more “professional” with their media coverage – they shut down the news and enforced a blackout a few hours after the incident started. So we only saw the photo’s from the start of the terrorist attack. From those pictures I could see that many diffrent Kenyan policemen, including undercover (criminal) and undercover (counterterrorist) experts all rushed to the call for help, along with Kenyan soldiers. The photo’s show a range of Kenyan policemen with a wide variety of weapons – it looks a bit “mixed-up” compared to what you would see in Israel or the USA. But that is typical for Africa. It was painful to see some photo’s of Kenyan policemen who had been shot in the stomach by the terrorists – they did not have bulletproof vests and just responded the best that they could. I hope they were evacuated and are OK.

To me – the most noticeable thing this time is that the terrorists were focused, well organized, and seemingly very well trained. They are getting stronger – it was a more professional enemy team than what Al Shabaab has sometimes used in the past. Considering that some of these terrorists were apparently foreigners from the USA and Europe – it is surprising how organized and prepared they actually were. It would seem to point to a high-level of planning – possibly with assitance of terrorist organizations outside of Somalia. That would be an important question to ask.

Anyway the good thing is that it is now over. I have seen emails from normal Kenyans on the streets of Nairobi – and they are quite shaken by this. We will see how Kenya responds to this incident. They are already occupying a border zone inside Southern Somalia (similar to what Israel did in Lebanon in the 1980′s). It appears this strategy is not foolproof, although I do think it has helped them.

Thank you Pete for sharing your personal experience and feelings about this terrible attack.  The details you added about the abilities of the Kenyan forces and the terrorists give us a much deeper insight into this terrible attack.

Let us hope that the siege is indeed over and that the Kenyan authorities, with or without the aid of Israel, will know how to counter this dreadful terrorist threat.

I’m sure you all join with me in offering condolences to the families of those who were so brutally killed, and wishing a speedy recovery to the injured.

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21 Responses to The Nairobi mall terror siege

  1. cba says:

    I’m sure you all join with me in offering condolences to the families of those who were so brutally killed, and wishing a speedy recovery to the injured.

    I do indeed.

    As well as the families and victims of the (to me, incomprehensible) bombing on Sunday of the church in Pakistan http://www.timesofisrael.com/at-least-60-killed-in-pakistan-suicide-bombing/

  2. cba says:

    Called the “white widow” by the British press, Samantha Lewthwaite is wanted in connection with an alleged plot to attack hotels and restaurants in Kenya. Asked if the dead woman was Lewthwaite, the intelligence officer said: “We don’t know.”

    We can but hope.

  3. annediamond1 says:

    I like many fear this could happen in other places,It is important that there is security in all public places. There should be no let up…. It is bad enough that flying has been so hit by these people who decide to spoil the pleasure of others, many would like to live side by side with all sides making
    world peace.
    There has not been a time in my lifetime where the world has had just that.

  4. peteca1 says:

    In reference to the ongoing mall attack – apparently it was not over quite as fast as everyone thought. On Monday evening the Kenyan Gov’t seemed exuberant that all of the terrorists were dead. But on Tuesday morning there was still gunfire and explosions. Probably the situation was that 2-3 terrorists were still alive in some store, and they were only discovered during the mopping up operation. Later on Tuesday the Kenyan Gov’t again announced victory in finishing the incident. Lets hope they are right the second time.

    Some readers asked about Samantha Lewthwaite. She is one of the puzzles of African terrorism. At one time in her life she was simply a wife of an Englishman -who went on to become a jiadist and a bomber in the UK. Samantha began her own journey into terrorism at that time. Since that time she has succesfully evaded many counter-terrorism sweeps by African police, with advisers coming from several western countries. So we must wonder to ourself – how does an untrained British woman graduate from a “normal life” to a highly evasive terrorist? It’s really a good question. But for whatever reason – she is remarkably good at escaping the nets that are thrown out to catch her. She seems to have some instinctive qualities that sharpen her abilities as an insurgent and a secret spy.

    Again – my overall impression of this Al Shebaab insurgent team at the mall – they were strong. Well prepared and strong. Someone took them and gave them a lot of training before they were sent on that mission. This incident reminds me in certain ways of the team that came from Pakistan and attacked facilities in Mumbai, India. That team also carried out a very complex invasion mission and caused a lot of casualties. Somewhere out there in the terrorist world – there are superior trainers who know what they are doing. They can take young insurgents and mold them into very dangerous people.
    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Once again Pete, thank you for your detailed and informed input.

      Re the training of the Al Shebaab terrorists, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d been trained in Pakistan. A lot of the British terrorists, those that carried out 7/7 and those that bombed Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv were trained there as far as I remember.

      However the question what makes an Englishwoman like Samantha Lewthwaite or her husband turn into jihadi terrorists must remain a mystery until they can explain to us. It’s incomprehensible to me.

  5. peteca1 says:

    Coming out of Kenya …
    16 terrorists are identified (and accomplices) – 5 dead and 11 injured from fighting.
    67 civilians dead as victims.

    One change in terrorist strategy – I have not seen before. This time terrorists lined up civilians against the walls inside the mall. Then they asked who was Muslim and who was not. Those people who were clearly Muslims were released and allowed to go free. Those who were doubtful were asked a test question – what was name of the mother of the Prophet, or what are the words of the Shahadah (Muslim oath of faith). People who failed this test, or were not Muslims, were shot dead at point blank range. I cannot recall terrorists using this tactic before – they are attempting to keep the support of their own Muslim donors.

    My prayers to all of the families who have lost loved ones.
    And special thanks to all the brave people – men and women – who defeated these terrorists.
    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      This time terrorists lined up civilians against the walls inside the mall. Then they asked who was Muslim and who was not.

      This sounds like the tactics of the terrorists who hijacked the Air France plane to Entebbe, and which Israeli commandos, led by Yonatan Netanyahu, finally rescued. They picked out Jews and Israelis and held them hostage. The other nationalities were allowed to go free.

      And in the end what starts with the Jews doesn’t end with them. As the famous quote goes:

      “Many years later, after Niemöller had been imprisoned for eight years in concentration camps as the personal prisoner of Adolf Hitler, he penned these infamous words:
      First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
      because I was not a Socialist.
      Then they came for the Trade Unionist, and I did not speak out –
      because I was not a Trade Unionist.
      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
      because I was not a Jew.
      And then they came for me –
      and there was no one left to speak for me.”
      ― Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

  6. peteca1 says:

    Here are some words from a news report today showing the enormous cost that comes from these random twrrorist attacks. Not only the terrible loss of life – but the waste of human potential.

    “Elif Yafuz, a Dutch woman who was 8 months pregnant, was gunned down when the attack began, along with her Australian partner Ross Langdon. I learned a little bit about them from friends on Facebook, who knew the couple from their time in Jakarta. Ms. Yafuz had devoted her adult life to working on malaria and HIV eradication in Asia and Africa.

    She received her Ph.D. from the Harvard School of Public Health earlier this year, with a dissertation that focused on malaria in eastern Africa, building off from fieldwork in Uganda. She and Mr. Langdon had recently returned to Africa, and she had started a job with the Clinton Foundation, focusing on malaria vaccine programs in Tanzania. ”

    So very sad. Prayers for their families.
    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Amen.

      It is indeed dreadful. As Israelis, we are sadly very experienced in this. We know only too well what it feels like and don’t wish it on anyone.

      But until the West wakes up and realises that terrorism is not because of anything the West (or Israel) has done, but is because of what the West is, terrorism by Muslim extremists will continue. The terrorists cannot be accommodated or appeased. They have to be destroyed. There is no other way to finish this scourge once and for all. It is unfortunately a zero-sum game.

  7. rrw says:

    unfortunately, pete – terrorists don;t care if you are helping anyone or not in your life. In this case, if you were not muslim, then your life wasn;t of any value, and therefore ended. That is why we must take terrorists for what they are, scum, and shoot them on site – dead – with no trial or anything – only by erradicating them will they become wary, and the world – hopefully a better place.

  8. peteca1 says:

    One of the other things about this latest attack – some of the terrorists were apparentlyAmericans. This is really shocking to the USA. In the past we have become somewhat accustomed to hear that jihadists have come from places like the Saudi Arabia (supported by the US), then they came and attacked America. But now we have the opposite situation – where US citizens have gone and got training, and then attacked the country that is the paternal home of the President of the United States. Most Americans will not comprehend how our “own blood “could be brainwashed into suicide missions like this. It goes against American culture. But there you have it – it has happened. American, British and European (Finland?) citizens becoming jihadists and attacking an African shopping mall.
    Pete, USA

  9. PeteCA says:

    Closing comments …. end of siege.

    “In a fierce final exchange as night fell Tuesday, Kenyan soldiers fired rocket-propelled grenades at insurgents, triggering the explosives that the militants had rigged inside the building, said a group of soldiers outside the mall.

    The massive blasts caused three of the mall’s floors to collapse upon each other. Although the structure of the building remained, the collapsed floors made survival for anyone inside unlikely, a lieutenant in the Kenyan Defense Forces said. The lieutenant said he hadn’t seen any hostages during the final stages of the operation.

    “As far as we’re concerned, the operation is complete,” he said. “We don’t expect there’s anyone alive in there.”

    Pete, USA

  10. Reality says:

    So tragic.My condolences to all the families.I wish the world would wake up and realise that Muslims hate non Muslims.Its time to act fiercely against them.

    • anneinpt says:

      I think the world understands very well. They’re just too cowardly to act upon this understanding. It’s much easier to blame the Jews and/or Israel.

      As Churchill said, they think if they appease the crocodile it will eat them last.

  11. peteca1 says:

    Wed Sep 25th news … resolution still unclear.
    Not unusual for Africa.

    ——————————
    “A top security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said even around the time President Uhuru Kenyatta told the nation in a televised address that “we have ashamed and defeated our attackers” on Tuesday night, three shots rang out at the mall.

    He said Kenyan authorities are still trying to determine where those shots came from.

    Meanwhile, the Kenyan government said forensic experts from the United States, Britain and Israel would be assisting them in their investigation of the attack.

    “The mall is sealed off, it is a crime scene,” Esipisu said.

    The process of retrieving bodies from inside the mall still had not begun Wednesday morning — possibly indicating that the situation was not yet considered secure — though a city morgue official said his workers were preparing to go into the building soon.

    The attack claimed by Somali militant group al-Shabab killed at least 61 civilians, six security officers and five extremists, the president said. Three floors of the mall collapsed, and at least one more militant’s body is believed to be buried in the rubble. Officials said the death count will likely rise. Estimates varied between only a few bodies to dozens of bodies possibly still inside the mall. Another 175 people were injured, including more than 60 who remain hospitalized.

    Fears persisted that some of the attackers could still be alive and loose inside the rubble of the mall, a vast complex that had shops for retailers like Bose, Nike and Adidas, as well as banks, restaurants and a casino.

    Pete, USA
    ————————————-

  12. peteca1 says:

    And a further follow-up – showing the big difficulties in getting a clear resolution for a terrorist incident that has happened in Africa. What is surprising is that the terrorists themselves made an announcement claiming that over 100 people were dead in the mall – as a result of their actions. Their figure was substantially higher than what Kenyan authorities have admitted Yet it is consistent with the number of people still missing …

    ——————————————
    Sep 25, 2013

    Nairobi — Families of 64 people who are reported missing have raised serious concern over silence by the government on the current situation at the Westgate shopping mall, which was seized by terrorists on Saturday.

    According to the Kenya Psychological Association (KPA), lack of information is causing anxiety among people whose kin have been missing since Saturday.

    KPA Chairperson Gladys Mwiti told journalists on Tuesday that the lack of information was affecting the families’ and victims’ psychological wellbeing.

    “We do not have right now actual data of who lost their family member or a relative but we can say that some of the cases that we have seen include those that do not know where their relatives are,” she said.
    ———————————————
    Pete, USA

  13. peteca1 says:

    Sep 25 statement from Al Shebab:
    —————
    “The group [al Shebab], which derided Kenya as it was battling militants inside the mall, said action by Kenyan troops using gas were responsible for the “lives of the 137 hostages who were being held by the mujahi =deen (fighters).”
    —————
    No way to know if the terrorist claims are true. But then, Kenyan Government statements have not always been 100% reliable either. Al Shebab is saying that the Kenyan forces used some type of gas to subdue the terrorists inside the mall. And it implies that the insurgents may have killed some of their hostages at that time. Could be propaganda, or could be true. As stated earlier, the claim of 137 dead cannot be ignored yet – because many people are still reported missing.

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Thanks for all your detailed updates Pete. I haven’t been able to keep up with the news since we were celebrating Simchat Torah.

      I really hope the whole thing is over now. What a nightmare for Kenya. If the reports about Israel aiding the investigation are true that will be a very great help. We have sadly huge experience in clearing damaged sites and ID’ing bodies, not to mention of course Israeli intel on terrorist organizations.

  14. peteca1 says:

    Anne – you are doing a wonderful job! I really applaud your commitment to keep sharing the joys of life in Israel, along with the difficulties. This type of reporting just never gets coverage anywhere else. The media never share the happiness of Israelis …. they only portray a bad side to life.

    I hope this will be my final post on the Nairobi mall siege. I wish that the following report was not true, but I suspect it is true. The doctor in this report is a Kenyan, and the prior incidents (Sachangwan, Sinai) he is referring to were explosions of petrol tankers – which incinerated many local villagers in Kenya (they were scooping up spilled fuel after the accident to take it home – but it ignited).

    But what happened at the Westgate Mall by the Al Shebab terrorists will create a furious desire for revenge within Kenya. Al Shebab has really too far this time.
    Pete, USA
    ——————————–
    News, Sept 27, 2013

    A doctor who has been working at the Westgate Mall has claimed that terrorists tortured their victims before killing them.

    “Those are not allegations. Those are f****ng truths. They removed balls, eyes, ears, nose. They get your hand and sharpen it like a pencil then they tell you to write your name with the blood. They drive knives inside a child’s body. Actually if you look at all the bodies, unless those ones that were escaping, fingers are cut by pliers, the noses are ripped by pliers.”

    The doctor who wished to remain anonymous said what he saw was worse that the deaths from the Sachangwan oil tanker explosion that claimed 139 lives in Jaunaury 2009 and the Sinai fire tragedy that killed 101 people in September 2011.
    “Sachangwan and Sinai is 50 percent of this. Sachangwan and Sinai you are sure of one thing…it is fire. And those people before they died they fell unconscious. Here it was pain. You find people with hooks hanging from the roof,” he said.
    ———————————

    • anneinpt says:

      OMG! I read some of these stomach-churning reports in the media here and was hoping it was some sort of sick exaggeration. I can’t bear to think of these monsters doing that to innocent civilians. They are worse than the worst beasts and war criminals that I can think of.

      Reports are still emerging of dozens of people still missing in the ruins of the collapsed mall. It’s just doesn’t bear thinking about.

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